"I’m trying to figure out who’s going to define cool now that Robert Mitchum is dead."

September 16, 2008

It was July 1, 1997. I know because that’s the date given when I checked on IMDb.

I walked into the dimly lit, catina-styled bar which was the favorite haunt of several of my friends and me during those days. Sitting there, nursing his scotch and Coke was The Drunken Frenchman, his haggard, craggy face bearing an obviously immense weight that made him appear to be even surlier than he often was.

“What’s wrong, Frenchman?”

The Frenchman barely glanced up, mumbling, “I’m trying to figure out who’s going to define cool now that Robert Mitchum is dead.”

Although only ten years older than me, The Frenchman belonged to another generation. As I had learned much from him about pop culture that had occurred before I was old enough (or even alive) to experience it, I was quite willing to defer to his assessment of Mitchum as the paragon of cool and the maven of manliness.

The Frenchman remained sullen throughout the evening and I understand why more so as the years pass. The icons of his youth were shuffling off this mortal coil on a too regular basis.

As he existed in a near vacuum – no phone, no internet (which, granted was in its infancy), no cable – he relied on others to inform him of each grim piece of news. As we worked together most mornings in a record store, it was often me that would arrive and ask, “Did you hear…”

The Frenchman was, quite possibly, the most knowledgeable person I have ever known about rock music from its birth to the early ’80s. It was the early ’80s – and a confluence of synthesizers and bands like Kansas and REO Speedwagon – that had caused him to wash his hands of much of the new music which followed. The names of the deceased who we’d toast – barely familiar to me – were his touchstones.

I had never known a world without Beatles. He could tell me of their every move and where he was when it occurred. And someday soon, we will live in a world where the Beatles are nothing more than spirits.

And the ghosts keep getting closer to me. Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright passed away today.

By the time I became serious about music, Pink Floyd was nearing the end, but, like most teenaged boys, I spent many hours listening to Animals, Wish You Were Here, and Dark Side Of The Moon.

I grew up with Pink Floyd’s music, but I wasn’t entirely connected to it – not like The Drunken Frenchman, who had probably bought Meddle on vinyl the day it was released.

But someday, the day will come.

Bono will die.

Or Dale Bozzio from Missing Persons.

One will die.

And another.

Soon I’ll be learning of deaths and struggling to place the name. Even those who didn’t have much importance to me, names of those were merely the window dressing of my childhood, will become a steady procession of flickering images growing more distant.

So, Frenchman, wherever you are, a toast to Rick Wright, sir.

Pink Floyd – Wot’s…Uh The Deal

Pink Floyd – Us And Them

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

Pink Floyd – Sheep

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